PORTLAND – The train carrying rails that will extend Amtrak’s Downeaster service to Brunswick will spend another day in Portland after experiencing more delays Thursday on its tortoise-paced journey through the city.

City officials issued another alert for today, warning drivers to avoid the Forest Avenue railroad crossing at Woodford’s Corner, where the train is expected to pass sometime after 9 a.m.

After that crossing, the train will head toward the Congress Street crossing, near St. John Street. City and rail officials could not be specific Thursday night about when the train might reach that point.

The train, at 2,000 feet long, is a space eater, blocking any street that might cross its path. It didn’t get started until about noon Thursday, which put it about four hours behind schedule.

At the first crossing of the day, on Riverside Street, there were no traffic backups because drivers avoided the crossing, said police Lt. Gary Hutcheson, who helped to coordinate traffic flow.

As the train made its way slowly south — estimates were at less than 1 mph — a small crowd of onlookers waited at the next crossing, at Allen Avenue. Among them was Will Beriau of Gray, who had been driving home and said he couldn’t resist stopping.

“I am a train buff. This is historic,” Beriau said.

Harry Pinkham drove in from Westbrook to watch the unloading of the 1,600-foot-long rails. “I am just curious” he said.

The train reached the Read Street crossing at 4:30 p.m. Jeff and Margaret Crider brought their 2-year-old twins, Harvey and Harrison, to watch the unloading of rails.

Jeff Crider, who was taking photographs, said he was fascinated with the steel rails, which wobbled as they slid off train cars into a threading machine that laid them down beside the existing track.

The work train was originally scheduled to enter Portland on Wednesday, but a series of mechanical problems slowed down work north of Portland, said Jim Russell, project manager for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the Downeaster’s operator.

On Thursday, the start of work was delayed so the tracks would be clear for a freight train that was passing from Waterville through Portland. Then the engine on the work train had to be switched and manned by a new crew, which pushed the start of work into the afternoon, Russell said.

Scheduling requirements to keep rail traffic moving makes it difficult to pinpoint where the work train will be, officials said.

“It’s a balance between customers and their freight” and the construction, said Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of PanAm Railways of Billerica, Mass., which owns the railway and is doing the work.

The dangerous work of unloading the rails must be done during daylight for safety reasons, Scarano said.

The work train left Indiana last week with its load of rails. It is laying the rails on both sides of the track. Later, another crew will install the rails to improve the track for Downeaster service to Brunswick starting in 2012.

The old rails will either be collected by truck or, possibly, by another slow-moving work train. The rails will be reused or sold for scrap metal, Scarano said.

The passenger trains will be able to reach speeds of 70 mph while traveling between Portland and Brunswick. The project is being financed with $35 million in federal economic stimulus money.

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]